(September 4 , 2017) 8:12 PM One of my takeaways from studying Phil. 1:12-26 this weekend was Paul’s assumption that the Christian is at home in no nation. Christians are led by a Savior who was always on the move. Christians set their hearts on the kingdom of heaven before all else. This means, ultimately, a desire to depart and be with Christ, for on this earth we have no lasting kingdom. Paul was in turmoil. He yearned for death, to depart and be with Christ. Yet he was such a Gospel man that he also yearned to remain to serve others. And so he needs God to make the choice for him. As Hawthorne writes, “Need dictates direction.” When Christians in Tertullian’s day constructed idols and excused themselves by saying, “Everyone has to make a living,” Tertullian asked them, “Must you live?” Today we make all sorts of excuses for serving our own gods. I know I do. For years I bowed to the shrine of Caesar. For years I made gilding idols out of my work and my reputation. What’s wrong with that? “Must you live?” answers the great theologian of the early church. Once we bow to the spirit of this age we cannot worship in Spirit and in truth. I still have a lot of goals and dreams and ambitions I’d like to accomplish while I’m alive. At the same time, I hope Jesus returns soon. I know that any day He will come, or else He will call me home. In the meantime, like Paul, I must be willing to leave family and friends behind, must be willing to live out of a suitcase, must be willing to go anywhere and serve anyone. I’ve done this countless times, and “goodbyes” to family are never easy. Yet life is too short to spend it only on yourself. “The thought of eternity consoles for the shortness of life,” said Luc de Clapiers. The only colors Paul knew were black and white. “Either I’ll depart and be with Christ, or I’ll remain here.” But if he’s going to remain, he’s sure as shootin’ gonna be useful for the kingdom.
As I read Philippians 1, I can hear some of Paul’s former friends bemusing themselves at his expense. “Too bad about old Saul. He’s gone off the deep end. He was once a brilliant scholar, a student of Gamaliel no less. But ever since he suffered sunstroke on the Damascus Road he’s been out of his mind. Gets into trouble all the time. Even stays in jail a whole lot. What a loser!” Everything depends on your perspective, however. Today we read Paul and not his contemporaries. Many of my students are eager to pursue their PhDs. I say more power to you. But PhD may mean Phenomenal Dud. Paul was brilliant, but he had an ability to leverage his intellectual prowess for the Gospel. I admire people like that. There seem to be far too few in the church today. (Michael Green comes to mind.) Which brings us back to Philippians 1. Never has evangelical Christianity needed Paul’s perspective on suffering as today. In the midst of prison, his only goal was to know Christ and make Him known. Aren’t we to live for Him all the time — for the One who grappled with the sordid problem of evil, defeated death, and left us with a Gospel and a new life, possible because He lives in us? Phil. 1:12-26, if it does nothing else, reminds us that only way we can redeem the hours of our lives is to spend them in God’s service.
Dear students: Chase fleeting fame and you are known but for a moment. Scholars who serve Jesus by serving others — these are the ones who outlive themselves.